Setting the record straight

Since I started writing regularly about the Israel/Palestine conflict – my first major article on the subject appeared in the Sydney Morning Herald in July 2003 – I’ve received mountains of hate mail, abusive phone calls and threatening emails.

“The degree of abuse and outright threats now being directed at anyone – academic, analyst, reporter – who dares to criticise Israel (or dares to tell the truth about the Palestinian uprising) is fast reaching McCarthyite proportions”, wrote Robert Fisk in December 2000. “The attempt to force the media to obey Israel’s rules is now international”. The situation has only worsened since September 11.

After I contributed a major chapter in last year’s best-selling Not Happy, John! – on the Hanan Ashrawi affair – the usual suspects spewed forth with predictable venom. I didn’t expect, though, to be appraised by the Adelaide Institute, the far-right Holocaust revisionists led by Frederick Tobin. I discovered this soon after publication and publicly distanced myself from their rantings. I do so again now, after a number of individuals have lazily connected my writings to raving anti-Semites. It’s a familiar slur and utterly inappropriate. But then, such are the tactics of those who fail to understand that criticism of Israel and Zionism are healthy elements in a democracy. Indeed, no country should be a sacred cow.

During the recent controversy over my forthcoming book on Israel/Palestine – and constant criticisms of Jewish Federal Labor MP Michael Danby – I’ve learnt that a number of individuals have written abusive emails to Danby, some verging on anti-Semitism. Once again, I condemn this in the strongest possible terms.

Let me set the record straight. I am against extremism in all its forms. Neo-Nazis, the far right, the far left, the fundamentalists and the bigoted get no comfort here. I’ve discovered that writing about the Middle East brings its own challenges, not least the vitriol and threats by some Jews, Zionists, pro-American fanatics and Orientalists who see no fault with the colonial outpost in the region known as Israel.

A number of colleagues – including Robert Fisk, Noam Chomsky and Norman Finkelstein – are occasionally quoted by extremists, yet I know they all disassociate themselves from fundamentalism. Chomsky, for example, is a true libertarian, and defends free speech for all with no exceptions, a brave act in the 21st century.

In his latest book, Beyond Chutzpah, Finkelstein explains the political reality of speaking out on the Israel/Palestine conflict:

“Whenever Israel comes under renewed international pressure to withdraw from occupied territories, its apologists mount yet another meticulously orchestrated media extravaganza alleging the world is awash in anti-Semitism. This shameless exploitation of anti-Semitism delegitimises criticism of Israel, makes Jews rather than Palestinians the victims and puts the onus on the Arab world to rid itself of anti-Semitism rather than on Israel to rid itself of the occupied territories.”

The slurs and vilification will continue – and undoubtedly intensify as my book approaches release in May 2006 – but let nobody accuse me of sympathising with extremists. It’s intellectually dishonest and patently untrue. Hopefully the truth still matters to some people.

Text and images ©2024 Antony Loewenstein. All rights reserved.

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